Sunday, December 31, 2017

Natalya Ilyina A Flower of the Heart

Photo of red iris by Vera Belikh

Flowers of the Heart Fourteen

For Natalya Kirilovna Ilyina

I became acquainted with Natalya in1995.
I was to teach in the English Department
at Kostroma University for two months.
She was in the Literature Department
teaching English authors. Earlier in that
visit, Vera Lebedev pulled her in to translate
when she showed us the Chestnyakov
exhibit. When I began teaching, she took
the role of checking on me. My friend Yuri
had invited me. He taught Russian lit in
the Literature Department. I was giving
a course on American poetry and one
on translating Akhmatova. My students
weren’t required to attend, nor could I
give them grades, which I didn’t know.
It fell to Natalya to tell me, and that 
was hard for her. The Russians don’t 
like to give you bad news. They would
rather indulge you with compliments.
She always attended my classes. A few
other teachers did, but only once. Some
English profs pressed their students to
attend, but that worked only occasionally.
Natalya had me to dinner and invited other
friends. She lived with her mother. In the
summer they gardened and preserved 
food for the winter. Natalya liked 
to talk about modern British authors: 
James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence. 
Once she took me to eat with a family  
she was tutoring in English, as 
they planned to emigrate to America. 
Russian professors were paid very 
little in the nineties. The English 
profs often tutored or led tours 
in the summer to supplement their 
salaries. In 2007 I returned, invited
to a literature conference on “Spirituality 
in Russian Literature.” I wrote a paper
on “Betrayal in the Work of Anna 
Akmatova.”  She translated it into Russian. 
When we met in a smaller session on 
twentieth century literature, she urged me
to read a small part in Russian, which I did,
feeling awkward, but the others present
seemed happy I was there and thanked me,
the only Western participant, for coming.
After the two-day conference, my friend
Mikhail being out of town, she invited
me to stay with her, and I did. Natalya
then worked out a program for me to
see my friends, some painters and even 
the former Mayor Korobov, the first
Russian I had ever met, who made a film
of us talking. He later sent it to me.
When Mikhail returned, he carried
me off to stay with his family. Several 
times, over the years, Natalya has helped me
contact other friends in Kostroma. Hers
was a friendship of devotion. She always
did for me whatever she could to make my 
life easier and better. For herself she was
very strict. She used cold showers to cure
a cold and worked late into the night.
She was devoted the way a servant might
be, no matter what cost to herself.

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